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Sam's White Barber Shop: 1927

Sam's White Barber Shop: 1927

Washington, D.C., circa 1927. "Al Jolson's parents' house," 4½ Street S.W. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative, 8 x 10 inches. View full size.


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We lived at 481 G Street SW in an old brick row house that was torn down as part of Urban Renewal in the 1950s. Cold water, no heat and no indoor plumbing, but it was home.

History of 4½ Street SW

"During the late 19th century (when today's 4th Street was named 4½ Street in Southwest), these streets were lined with small shops and were centers of a Jewish immigrant community. A synagogue of the Talmud Torah Congregation opened in 1906 under the direction of Rabbi Moses Yoelson. One of his sons was singing star Al Jolson."

"Then called 4½ Street, by 1900 this street was a dividing line between white residents on the east and blacks on the west. When renamed 4th Street between the world wars, both groups joined together and persuaded the city to widen and repair the street, add modern paving, and improve lighting. Community activist Harry Wender reported that the neighborhood commemorated its victory by holding the "biggest celebration in the history of the city" and that "it was the first time that Negroes and whites paraded together in the history of Washington"."


Here is what the street looks like today.

Shake, Rattle, and Roll, 1919

Shake, Rattle, and Roll (Who's Got Me) was recorded by Al Bernard in 1919. Have a listen! It's about gambling with dice. My guess is the event the poster advertises is along those same lines.

Four and a Half

Justice Douglas had his opinion of the SW neighborhood and today, 55 years later, I have mine. The redevelopment that took place there may offer residents more plumbing, electricity and other conveniences, but all of the texture, history, aesthetics and character have been destroyed. Today, the neighborhood has all the bland "character" of similar mid- to late-20th century "developments."

Every trace of the old place is gone, even the undeniably charming street name of 4½. That part of history will never come back in this neo-wasteland.

I'd take Italianate cornices, scary alleys and quirky ironwork any day over the sterile blandness of a fake suburban utopian fantasy.

A less-charitable view of that block

This spot is close to the site of the department store at 712 Fourth Street, S.W. where the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case of Berman v. Parker arose. According to Justice Douglas's 1954 opinion for the Court, "Surveys revealed that in Area B, 64.3% of the dwellings were beyond repair, 18.4% needed major repairs, only 17.3% were satisfactory; 57.8% of the dwellings had outside toilets, 60.3% had no baths, 29.3% lacked electricity, 82.2% had no wash basins or laundry tubs, 83.8% lacked central heating. . . . The entire area needed redesigning so that a balanced, integrated plan could be developed for the region, including not only new homes but also schools, churches, parks, streets, and shopping centers. In this way it was hoped that the cycle of decay of the area could be controlled and the birth of future slums prevented."

The deal with the screen...

The screen is not meant to be pulled down. Rather, it was placed there to fill the void above a screen door (no longer present in the photo). If you look closely, you will see that the door to the barber shop is slightly taller than the average door. The right side of the jamb (below the weird screen) has been supplemented with a vertical board upon which are mounted two hinge halves. It is upon these that the erstwhile screen door (of a more conventional height) hung.

I remember seeing...

..."The Jolson Story" and "Jolson Sings Again" when I was kid. Larry Parks played Jolson. If I recall correctly, they liked to play them on New years Eve. I enjoyed them as kid, but I'll bet they wouldn't play very well today...all that blackface stuff, you know.

Heavy Typecast

The guy in the second-hand store looks like he could be typecast as the heavy in any of the period films.

Paging Big Joe Turner

I wonder if Big Joe Turner (who would've been 16 at the time) might have seen a poster for that show?

The Boswell Sisters also had a song called Rock & Roll out around this time, must've been something in the air...

Narrow passage

Small, but scary, alley.


Ostentosa barandilla de fundición junto al callejón de mala muerte...
Flores de Lis (?), en todo caso, invertidas. Dave)

Shake, rattle etc.

Couldn't find much info on the Jones boys. Did find an old Eddie Cantor reference to Archie being listed as a trombone player on a record from early 1920s. Maybe they were the first to shake rattle and roll.


Another example of stone lintels, neatly done. Al Jolson's brother was the father of a buddy of mine at college. An interesting family!

Fixer upper

I would have thought that with all his money that Al would have gotten the brick pointing repaired under those first floor windows. Or maybe his father refused the offer to do some repairs because Al's money came from the stage...or have I just watched "The Jazz Singer" too many times?


I am absolutely thrilled to find these photos. I am a Jolson fanatic from way back. I am going to share these photos with a friend of mine who is also a Jolson addict.

Kiatta vs. Taylor

Flyer in Sam's window....

Washington Post, Mar 25, 1927

Kiatta vs. Taylor on Mat

George Kiatta, Syrian mat expert will meet George Taylor in a wrestling bout at the Mutual theater tonight. Taylor has recently won victories over Dutch Green and other good middle-weight wrestlers.

Woman and screen

I love the barely-visible cross-armed woman in the barber shop. She looks so unamused! Also, what's the deal with the screen over the barber's door? It looks like it could be pulled down to cover the whole doorway.

[The lady might be cardboard. - Dave]

Dearest Spot on Earth

Note that address is in the southwest quadrant. I don't think there was a 4½ Street in the northwest.

Washington Post, Jun 24, 1923

Native Washingtonians Succeed in
Varied Fields of Endeavor

To the southwest section of Washington as well as America generally the stage is typified by one name, "Al Jolson," for he is the pride of that neighborhood where he lived from the time he was a child of eight after coming to America from Europe until the dawn of fame drew his steps away from the Capital.

Down in the substantial home at 713 Four-and-one-half street southwest, his boyhood home and where his father, the Rev. M.R. Yoelson still resides, there is always joy when "Al" is coming to town. For they know that although he is a personal friend of President Harding, who always tries to see his show and appreciates his humor and genius to the full, the "dearest spot on earth to him is Home, Sweet Home" and his big car caries him swiftly away from the uptown theater to his home where a reunion with his dear ones awaits him.

The boys and girls at Jefferson school, just around the corner, treasure every scrap they can learn of Al Jolson, for he is one of their own, "a Jefferson school boy" through all his healthy, happy boyhood, a marble champion, a baseball player and popular among his mates.



Is the coat lying on the bench possibly the cameraman's or did someone just walk away from a nice coat? Also it looks like the woman in the picture is getting ready for a shave!

The 3 crosses in the architecture above "713"....were these common for that day?

[Those are fleurs-de-lis. - Dave]

A million miles

So this is where he would walk a million miles for one of her smiles?

also don't know what the shake, rattle and roll refers to on the signs but for sure it isn't very early rock and roll.

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